State Rep. Santiago Joining Boston Mayoral Race

BOSTON (State House News Service) — Jon Santiago, a second-term state lawmaker and emergency room doctor from Boston's South End, is entering the race to succeed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, joining a diverse field of candidates that already includes three members of the City Council.

Santiago plans to announce his campaign Tuesday, beginning with a digital ad campaign and "COVID safe" citywide organizing events online in the days to come.

At 38, the native of Puerto Rico is the only member of the Legislature currently eyeing City Hall after Walsh successfully made the jump from the State House to City Hall in 2014. Councilors Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George - all women of color - are already in the race.

"This mayor's race will be the most consequential mayor's race in recent history. From our health care system to our schools, everyone's been impacted by this pandemic so I'm running to bring Boston back better than before," Santiago told the News Service in an interview Monday night.

Santiago said he's also running to make sure that the city's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is one "rooted in equity and opportunity."

"This pandemic has really taken the lid off the inequities and laid bare our vulnerabilities. It has exposed them and exacerbated them. I want to lead us through this crisis, but I'm more concerned about what the next two, three, four years look like," he said.

Recently reelected to his second term representing the Ninth Suffolk District in the House, Santiago was just appointed vice-chair of the new Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness. He is preparing for the committee's first oversight hearing Thursday when lawmakers will question Gov. Charlie Baker and his team on the state's vaccine program.

As an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center, Santiago has spent months on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, working at the hospital through the first surge before deploying to Kuwait for four months as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves.

Santiago's tour overseas ended in December, just in time for him to return to the city and Boston Medical Center for the second coronavirus surge.

"These experiences have informed my policy making and prepared me to lead," Santiago said.

Santiago's two-minute campaign launch video features the legislator in scrubs walking home through the South End from Boston Medical Center discussing how his own life and those of his patients have impacted his work.

On Beacon Hill, Santiago has focused on issues like housing and opioid abuse. He has also used social media to share video messages updating the public on what's happening in his hospital and to react to the state's economic and health response to COVID-19.

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Former Speaker Robert DeLeo tapped him to be part of small group that worked to develop a safe strategy for the House to operate remotely during the pandemic.

Santiago first joined the Legislature a little over two years ago after defeating long-time incumbent Democrat Byron Rushing to win the Ninth Suffolk seat, representing parts of the South End, Roxbury, Back Bay and Fenway.

While he wouldn't compare himself to the other three candidates in the race, Santiago said he would bring a "certain level of crisis leadership" to the mayor's office, as well as a willingness to listen and an "incredible work ethic."

Santiago also declined to offer a detailed assessment of Walsh's tenure as mayor.

"I have tremendous respect for Mayor Walsh. He's a friend and I think he's done a formidable job in his response to the pandemic, but this race isn't about relitigating Mayor Walsh and his performance. This is about who is going to lead Boston," Santiago said.

He said Boston needs to bring students back to school "as soon as possible" and support small businesses who have struggled through the pandemic.

Born in Puerto Rico, Santiago's family moved to Boston when he was in elementary school, settling in Roxbury where he said he grew up in subsidized housing and attended Boston public schools.

His family later moved to Texas, and Santiago went to college at the University of Texas at Austin before earning a master's degree in global health at the University of Washington and his medical degree from Yale.

"I've come to learn that my patients are a reflection of Boston. Their stories speak to our greatest challenges," Santiago says in his campaign launch video. "Disparities in health and wealth; rising rents; struggling schools. I've spent my life in service to tackle these very issues."

After college, Santiago joined the Peace Corps where he met and became friends with former Congressman Joe Kennedy III in the Dominican Republic.

He was active campaigner on behalf of Kennedy during the Democrat's most recent unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate.

Santiago's campaign said it planned a "significant" digital advertising buy for an edited 30-second version of his launch video to run over the next week. Santiago's campaign account has close to $160,000.

Walsh is awaiting confirmation from the U.S. Senate to join President Biden's administration as labor secretary. While it's unclear when that vote might take place or when Walsh will resign, Santiago said he supported, along with the entire Boston delegation, the city's petition to cancel a special election for mayor if Walsh resigns before March 5. That bill passed the House on Monday.

North End Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, the chair of House Ways and Means, also considered a run for mayor but opted against it, as did Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins and former Police Commissioner William Gross.

Walsh's economic development chief John Barros has also been weighing a possible campaign, according to people close to the 2013 candidate.

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service

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(Photo: Mario Jarjour/WBZ NewsRadio)

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